1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Money · Technology

BR 276: On the clock by Emily Guendelsberger

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Comments: Emily G spent 2 months each in an Amazon warehouse, an AT&T/Convergys call center, and a McDonalds and compiled her experiences and observations in a fantastic book.

Insights that resonated: The one idea that I kept coming back to was a recognition of the privilege in my life. I get to get a steady paycheck solving puzzles that are sometimes challenge, occasionally difficult, but never hard. However, the average hourly worker’s life is the exact opposite – an unsteady paycheck and a hard job.

There are many memorable anecdotes that will stay with me – customers throwing coffee and sauce at McDonalds, getting hourly pay deducted for a bathroom break at Convergys, chugging free pain medication at Amazon, Amazon colleagues doing a DIY root canal at home to avoid missing work and paying a dentist, among others.

It made me ponder the effects of global trade and technology while also considering the possibility of Universal Basic Income.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Philosophy

BR 275: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

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Comments: A fascinating peek into the diary of the most powerful man in the world at the time.

Insights that resonated:  The one word that I’ll remember the book by is “perspective.”

“Keep perspective” seems to be the one piece of advice Marcus reflects on the most. He does this by constantly reminding himself of death.

In doing so, he reflects on the futility of chasing fame and sensory pleasures. And, he doesn’t seem to tire of reminding himself of his place in the world – that of an evolutionary speck – in these reflections.

Marcus Aurelius was probably the most powerful person in the world at the time. So, the nature of these notes are all the more impressive given the immense power he held. He clearly passed his stoic examinations with flying colors.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Philosophy

BR 274: Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

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Comments: It is so amazing to think about the sheer power of making insights accessible. Seneca’s notes were written two centuries ago.. but so many are still relevant today.

Insights that resonated: A few among many that stood out to me –

  • All ideas with merit are common property (more)
  • Treat everyone as you’d treat your superiors.
  • Spend less time mourning your friend and instead go ahead and make one. (more)
  • There is nothing a wise man does reluctantly. He escapes necessity because he wills what necessity will force on him.
  • Something that can never be learnt too thoroughly can never be said too often.
3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Management

BR 273: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhou

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Comments: A practical book for the first time manager. I’ve enjoyed Julie’s blog posts and think she comes across as positive and authentic. She did so here too.

Insights that resonated: The premise of the book is – be thoughtful about how you manage your team and keep adapting your style and processes as time passes. I thought Julie delivered on that with lots of insights from her time leading a fast growing design team.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Philosophy

BR 272: A Guide to the Good Life by William B Irvine

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Comments: If you have any interest in philosophy or stoicism, this book would be in the “Read ASAP” list. It is an awesome Stoicism 101 – the sort of book that could be a course in Stoic philosophy.

Insights that resonated: While there were individual lessons like negative visualization or many notes on focusing on the process that reminded me of the Bhagavad Gita, the best thing the book did was inspire more reading. Following this, I began compiling notes/principles that resonated and began reading the trifecta of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus.

Thank you, William Irvine, for a beautiful synthesis.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Philosophy

BR 271: The Socrates Express by Eric Weiner

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Comments: Eric Weiner makes philosophy and great philosophers accessible. This book is a must read for anyone who is curious about the life and work of great philosophers. Eric brings together a witty travelogue, stories about the lives of great philosophers, a summary of their work, and insights about his attempts at applying their lessons. It changed how I thought about philosophy and philosophers – I’m grateful.

Insights that resonated: 

1. Nearly every great philosopher made their impact by sharing powerful observations about the world and the human condition. They had their own distinct style and approach to making these observations. Some did it with a lot of emotions, others with characteristic pessimism or self deprecation, and so on.

Socrates, however, was unique in only leaving behind a method. Socrates’ legacy isn’t about what he wrote. In fact, he wrote almost nothing. Everything we know about him is thanks to his student Plato,

His legacy, instead, is defined by his approach to thoughtful conversation – the “Socratic method” that relies on questions to spur critical thinking.

It is a powerful way to think about legacy. A legacy that is defined by the how instead of the what.

2. Stoics are not pessimists. They believe everything happens for a reason, the result of a thoroughly rational order. Unlike grumpy Schopenhauer, they believe we are living in the best of all possible worlds, the only possible world. Not only does the Stoic consider the glass half full; he finds it a miracle he has a glass at all—and isn’t it beautiful? He contemplates the demise of the glass, shattered into a hundred pieces. and appreciates it even more. He imagines life had he never owned the glass.
He imagines a friend’s glass breaking and the consolation he’d offer. He
shares his beautiful glass with others, for they, too, are part of the logos,
or rational order.

“Joyful Stoic” is not an oxymoron, says William Irvine, a professor
of philosophy at Wright State University and a practicing Stoic. He ex-
plains: “Our practice of Stoicism has made us susceptible to little out-
bursts of joy. We will, out of the blue, feel delighted to be the person we
are, living the life we are living, in the universe we happen to inhabit.” I
confess: that sounds appealing.

3. Adversity anticipated is adversity diminished

4. The sound of the true is drowned out by the noise of the new.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Skills

BR 270: Several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg

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Comments: This is a fantastic book on writing. A true masterpiece. As an added bonus, it has plenty of wisdom about skills, practice, and life.

Insights that resonated: I’ve shared a few passages that resonated deeply here. My favorite is the one below.

Why are we talking about sentences?
Why no talk about the work as a whole, about shape, form, genre, the book, the feature story, the profile, even the paragraph?

The answer is simple.
Your job as a writer is making sentences.
Most of your time will be spent making sentences in your head.
In your head.
Did no one ever tell you this?
That is the writer’s life.
Never imagine you’ve left the level of the sentence behind.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · History · Money

BR 269: Debt by David Graeber

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Comments: There are a few special books that change our perspective by telling us the story of our past. “A Splendid Exchange” and “Guns, Germs, and Steel” do so from the lens of trade and conquest. “The Accidental Superpower” views the past from the lens of changing superpowers. “Sapiens” does so from the lens of human evolution. And, “Debt” does so from the lens of… well.. debt.

With every one of these books, we may not agree with everything the author says. That’s expected when you’re attempting to synthesize thousands of years of human history. But, these books are worth reading because understanding what came before us helps put into context what we’re experiencing today.

And, every once in a while, they also helps provide clues about what might lie ahead. History doesn’t repeat but it often rhymes.

Insights that resonated: 

1. The notion that money began because of barter is a myth. Barter is simply a logical sounding story made up by economists. To understand money, we need to look at credit/debt.

2. It is fascinating how there were similar arcs of progress in different places around the world. As different as these people and places were, there were still strong similarities in the way civilization progressed.

3. While luck plays a massive role in our lives (determines ~70% of our outcomes by my estimation) today, that role was even arguably larger (>90%) in the past. If you were born in the wrong family, you were stuck, screwed, or likely to die a brutal death.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Fiction

BR 268: Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

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Comments: Ender’s Game from the point-of-view of Bean. If you haven’t read Ender’s Game, I’d start there. If you have and liked it, you’re likely to love this too.

Insights that resonated: None – just an engaging read. :-)

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Fiction

BR 265-267: The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi

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Comments: Growing up as a Hindu in India, I listened to many fascinating mythological tales with supernatural beings, incredible powers, and such. This work of fiction aims to make sense of it all with a fascinating and believable tale. Very well crafted.

Insights that resonated:

1. The central insight was about the importance of being as principled as possible. That, in turn, means striving to apply those principles 100% of the time. There were many cases where the hero (Shiva) had a strong cause to bend the rules or make exceptions. But, he refused to do so – winning the respect of his followers as a result.

2. Provide the framework for discussion and let people arrive at solutions themselves.